FEd Fall 2002 Newsletter - Comments

Fall 2002



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  • The number of students taking A-level (advanced level secondary school) physics exams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this summer rose by 2.7% to over 31,500, according to an article in the September issue of Physics World. Total A-level entries in all subjects, in contrast fell by 6%. The numbers taking AS-level physics, a physics exam taken at the end of the sixth form, increased by 17.3% to almost 39,000. Fears that students would try the new AS-level physics and then abandon the subject were unfounded, it appeared, as a high percentage of those who took AS-level physics in 2001 went on to do a full A-level in 2002. The overall pass rate for physics was 92% at A-level and 85% at AS-level. Meanwhile the number of students in Scotland taking Higher physics fell by 4.4%.

  • The Bakken Museum, which includes about 2000 scientific and medical instruments is one of three Minneapolis science museums described in an article in the May issue of Physics in Perspective. Founded by Earl Bakken, the inventor of the first wearable transistorized cardiac pacemaker and founder of Medtronics, the collection focuses on "electricity in life," specifically the historical role of electricity and magnetism in the life sciences and medicine.

  • A special feature on "Uncertainty, Risk and Disaster" in the September issue of Physics Education includes articles on "Teaching accuracy and reliability for student projects," "A practical guide to open-ended course work investigations," " Extreme value theory," "Challenger," and "Fire resistance of framed buildings."

  • Women from 41 nations are assembling the first international organization to promote the recruitment, retention and networking of female engineers and scientists, according to a story in October issue of The Institute, a publication of IEEE. A landmark vote creating the International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists (INWES) was cast during the 12th International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists July 27-31 in Ottawa, Canada. INWES is expected to become operational next year.

  • Although American universities are producing new scientists and engineers at an unprecedented rate of well over half a million a year, the supply of doctorates in science and engineering may not be enough to meet recruitment needs over the coming decade, according to an article in the July issue of Scientific American. Since 1996 the number of science doctorates has decreased, primarily because of the decline in degrees earned by noncitizens who have been drawn to universities in China, South Korea and Taiwan. The number of doctoral degrees granted to U.S. citizens has apparently stopped growing and shows signs of leveling off at about 16,000 to 17,000 annually, probably not enough to meet our needs. Underlying the plateau is the failure in recent decades of white American males to enter science and engineering doctoral programs.

  • The main scientific advisory panel to the White House has joined the call for more research funding for the physical sciences, according to a story in the 5 September issue of Nature. A letter from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) calls for a funding increase in fields such as physics and engineering to match the five-year doubling of biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health, which will be completed next year. Because Bush appointed PCAST only last year, and it comprises scientists and engineers friendly to the administration, lobbyists are optimistic that Bush will heed its advice. Michael Lubell, APS director of public affairs, calls the letter "a breath of fresh air." A similar story appears in the 6 September issue of Science.

  • More than 76% of physics lessons for 11-14 year olds in the UK are taught by teachers without a physics degree and more than one-third are taught by teachers without a physics A-level, according to an article in the September issue of Physics World. In order to support these teachers, the Institute of Physics has embarked on a Supporting Physics Teaching project, designed to develop the competence and confidence of non-specialists teaching physics to 11-14 year olds. The project aims to produce a set of 6 CD-ROMs covering the physics components of the science syllabuses across Great Britain and Ireland. Each episode will consist of three elements: the physics, the associated learning challenges, and successful teaching approaches.

  • If the process by which individuals enter and progress through programs in mathematics, science, technology, and engineering (MSTE) can be likened to a pipeline, the pipeline is very leaky during the college years, according to an article in the October issue of the Journal of College Science Teaching. More than 40 percent of all students who enter college with an interest in mathematics, science, and engineering majors leave these majors between their first and second years. The pipeline is even leakier for women, and the leaky pipeline continues into the workplace. At least one university has instituted a one-credit course that supports female students in their aspirations toward MSTE majors and careers.

  • "The Internet's Impact on Teacher Practice and Classroom Culture" is the subject of an article in the June issue of the T.H.E. Journal. One of the positive results discussed is that students spend more time teaching each other and even teaching the teachers. Given the massive amount of information available on the Internet, any student is now able to find information not formerly known by the teacher. Girls seem to be as comfortable as boys in searching for information on the Internet, in contrast to studies that show boys are more generally more comfortable using computers than girls. The Internet changes the face of the computer world from one centered on programming and adventure games to one that includes a significant communications focus.